‘Buying a Kate Spade bag was a rite of passage’ – Hongkongers, fashion world pay tribute to designer following her suicide
Like the rest of the world, Hong Kong was seduced by American accessories designer’s quirky handbags – and just as stunned by her death at the age of 55
When news broke on Tuesday that designer Kate Spade, founder of the namesake leather goods brand, had taken her life in her New York apartment, it came as a shock to the fashion world.
While the woman behind the brand had been out of the spotlight since selling her company and hadn’t been involved in the label that bears her name for more than a decade, colourful Kate Spade bags and accessories are still staples in the wardrobes of women in Hong Kong and around the world.
The brand, which Spade and her husband Andy sold in 1999 and which was bought by leather-goods house Coach last year, has more than 175 stores around the world, including six in Hong Kong.
Spade, who started her career as a fashion editor, pioneered the concept of accessible luxury, offering relatively affordable bags that young, fashion-conscious women bought before upgrading to more expensive labels.
Making a trip to the mall to buy a Kate Spade bag is a tradition many women in the United States can remember from their teenage years, as fans of the brand, some famous, recalled in the hours after the 55-year-old’s death.
“When I started working, buying a Kate Spade bag was a rite of passage. It was the first designer bag I ever owned and still treasure it for its sentimental value,” said Sheri Fung, 40, a Hong Kong-born finance executive, outside a Causeway Bay mall on Wednesday.
At the Kate Spade boutique in Sogo, Causeway Bay, Grace Ma, 30, a creative consultant, said she was shocked to learn of Spade’s death. She has been a fan of Kate Spade’s designs for the past two years, seeing them as interesting and playful, and less commercial than those of other brands.
Ada Chan, a housewife in her 50s, also at the Sogo store, said she was saddened by the loss of a great designer. She received a Kate Spade lobster bag only two months ago from her husband.
Reaction to Spade’s death was swift on social media.
Chelsea Clinton tweeted:
My grandmother gave me my first Kate Spade bag when I was in college. I still have it. Holding Kate’s family, friends and loved ones in my heart.
— Chelsea Clinton (@ChelseaClinton) June 5, 2018
Actress and comedian Mindy Kaling aptly described the designer’s lighthearted aesthetic in this tweet:
I am heartbroken about the news of Kate Spade. I have worn her clothes many, many times. They were colorful, bold, cheerful, and encouraged women to find the twinkly person inside them. You couldn’t walk into her boutiques and not smile. Rest In Peace, Kate.
— Mindy Kaling (@mindykaling) June 5, 2018
Fellow American designer Kenneth Cole also paid homage:
Kate Spade left an indelible mark on the fashion industry and her inspiring life and work will be missed. We lost a true visionary today. My heart goes out to her family and to all she has touched.
— Mr. Kenneth Cole (@mr_kennethcole) June 5, 2018
Hong Kong-born Canadian stylist Joe Zee, formerly of Elle US, tweeted:
Kate was one of the first people I ever worked with when I started in fashion as an assistant and she was still an editor, thinking of starting a handbag line. She was always full of light and laughter. RIP Kate and so many prayers to your family now. https://t.co/qLTmV92rOY
— Joe Zee (@mrjoezee) June 5, 2018
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, help is available. For Hong Kong, dial +852 28 960 000 for The Samaritans or +852 23 820 000 for Suicide Prevention Services. In the US, call The Lifeline on +1 800 273 8255. For a list of other nations’ helplines, see this page.